Snowdon: Small but Stormy
Snowdon. Wales tallest mountain. 3,550 feet.
We were told “It’s a GREAT hike! You’ll love it, the view from the top is beautiful. It’s an easy 3 hour walk, no problem for the two of you.” Oh, how wrong our friends and family were!
Rewind the story to Cardiff and 5 people piling into a car with bags everywhere for a 4 day road trip around the Welsh countryside. Gale force winds, sleet, and zero visibility were not apart of this master plan we had in mind, how could there be sleet in June?! On Day 3 of our Welsh adventure, we pulled up to the foot of Snowdon, ready to waltz up to the top, take our pictures, eat our not so soggy tuna sandwiches and do a little dance on the top of Wales. It was all smiles & laughs.
We should have known better when we read the warning board at the start of hike.
Warning! Hikers come prepared!
- Check the WEATHER conditions.
- Have proper hiking shoes.
- Bring a waterproof layer.
- And blah, blah, blah… we all had a laugh while reading the warnings and didn’t have a care otherwise!
Between the five of us we had everything covered. Rhys and I were wearing hiking shoes, but had no waterproof layer. The other three boys all had a waterproof layer, but no hiking shoes. Our friend Mark was doing the hike in JEANS and the other two had shorts on. But hey, as a team we were ready to rock ‘n’ roll. Individually, not so much. Twenty minutes into the hike 2 people coming down the mountain told us the weather farther up was really bad and it was so windy that the train running from the bottom to the top wasn’t going anywhere near the top. Yet another red flag waving at us, but the weather was fine where we were. It was cloudy with a light misty rain, but then that’s Wales, it’s always cloudy and drizzling at least a little bit!
As we kept going the weather went from okay to impossible in 2 hours. We stopped to catch our breath against the wind pounding us in the face and met a lady who was a little shaken up after being physically blown over by the wind. Red flag number three. Can we catch a hint?! At this point we were in the clouds and our visibility was about 10 feet in front of us and the winds were unreal. At times the wind was 80-100 mph, we had to take baby steps on the far side of the trail away from the drop off on the other side. The rain was coming down so hard and slapping us in the face, when the rain turned to sleet it was game over for me.
We dragged on praying for a break against the weather. Anything to get us out of the rain, sleet, wind, and dropping visibility. We knew there was a restaurant at the top and had our hearts set on a bathroom or building to get us out of the rain & wind. I stopped two guys coming down the mountain and screamed to them over the whipping wind, “How far is the top? Is there anywhere to get out of this up there?!” They screamed back, “Your 20 minutes away and there’s nothing at the top, you can’t even see the restaurant.” My heart dropped and I was done. What’s the point of doing a hike if you don’t even know when you’re at the top? For me the satisfaction comes from sitting on a rock at the summit perched over rolling hills around you, taking photos with hands in the air, loving the moment you’re in and the hike you’ve just done. This was not fun. With tears in my eyes, I was actually scared at the situation we were in. We’ve hiked to 17,600 feet to the foot of Mt. Everest, we’ve been in so many dodgy situation in Asia, and this was one of the first times I was actually scared.
It was hard to breath because the gusts of wind took your breath away, I was shaking because I was soaked to the bone and my clothes weighed 25 pounds with all of the added water weight, I had been in these conditions for close to 3 hours with no end in sight, and I could see less than 10 feet in front of me with a drop off on one side. It was freezing and the storm that had closed in on us was only getting worse. The higher up we were the more violent the storm was. After the brief conversation with the two guys (our 4th red flag), three of us turned around. Our two other friends had wandered ahead of us and being the ego-driven idiots they were made their way to the top rocking their jeans and shorts. They said from the point we were at the weather and trail got so bad that when they got to the top they clung to the summit’s pole to keep from blowing off. Not for me! I have dreams of a sunny day on Snowdown and a leisurely enjoyable walk to the top gazing at the green fields and sheep dotted around us. At one point on our hike down we had drop to our knees and cling on to the rocks around us as a gale force wind tried to knock us off the top. It was a scene out of a movie, I still can’t believe how intense the weather was and how unprepared we were to be in it.
We were polka dots on the mountain compared to the hikers around us. They had so much gear on they looked like they had to be training for Himalayan Expeditions. Here we were in our sweats, jeans, and shorts, and had no business being on the mountain in that storm. Before the hike, I laughed at the thought of people forced to call for helicopter rescue on Snowdon (come on it’s a 3 hour walk!), but I completely understand how it is possible. The weather at the bottom was sun shining through the clouds, and people humming ‘Oh, happy days…’ At the bottom, you would never have a clue that there was a winter storm brewing and pounding down on the summit of Snowdon.
If you’re sitting there laughing that we turned around 20 minutes from the top….
Don’t judge, you’ll never understand! & it’s always a reason to venture back up to Northern Wales and cruise through the beautiful, winding roads and dine in some of the best pubs I’ve ever been in!
(Our fingers were frozen and incapable of unscrewing a cap on a water bottle, so taking pictures was completely out of the question. The few pictures we have are from the bottom of the hike and one shot of us halfway up, it actually broke our friend’s camera to take!)